Success Story: Aileen Lost 79 lbs!

Aileen S. Age: 45
Starting Weight: 234
Weight now: 155

What was the turning point that motivated your lifestyle change?

In 2008, I lost about 70 pounds, but I never actually reached my target weight. Over the next few years, I steadily put back on more than half of that weight. I was unhappy with myself and my ability to do things with my children and friends, like jump on a trampoline or go clothes shopping. In the summer of 2012, we went on vacation and I hated seeing myself in pictures. I had a now-or-never moment and decided that if I wanted to be happy, I needed to start doing things for myself and create my own happiness.

People want to know how I did it, and the answer is I believed. I believed in me. If I was going to be happy in my life and with my body, I had to do it myself. Between August 16, 2012 and January 16, 2013, I lost 44 pounds and hit my target weight. I had lost 79 pounds from my all-time, non-pregnant high. Why? Because I started to believe and insist that I could reach my goal.

How did MyFoodDiary help in your weight loss journey?

Writing down what I eat is a critical and non-negotiable part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight for me. I know some experts say not to write it down because “calories are not all created equally.” There may be some truth in that, but I know that for me, mindless emotional eating is probably my number one cause of weight gain. I also believe that at the end of the day, it is the simple math of “calories in vs. calories out” that rules my body. But I don’t always have a “journal” with me, nor my computer. To have an online journal that is always available and updated with all of the information I need, that is doing the math for me and keeping track of exercise, nutritional values, and water intake, is just essential.

Now that I have been at my goal weight for over two years, I sometimes get away from daily journaling. But as soon as I start to feel myself creeping away from my target weight, the first thing I go back to is MyFoodDiary and daily journaling. It’s not just about being accountable. I like to look at trends and be aware of things like, what average daily calorie intake helps me maintain my weight? Lose weight? And what does my average nutritional profile REALLY look like? MyFoodDiary is my infrastructure for a healthy lifestyle and my security blanket.

Describe your new, healthy lifestyle?

Even though I have maintained my goal weight for over two years, I still need to prove to myself every day that I can do this, that this is real. This is my thought cycle: I believe that I am a strong and healthy person, therefore I behave that way. It has become my reality. I drink water instead of other beverages. I try to incorporate vegetables into my diet wherever I can, especially into smoothies. In general, I try to reduce refined carbohydrates and processed foods and chemicals. I’m also aware that bites, licks and tastes have calories and add up fast! I sometimes get away from daily journaling but MyFoodDiary is always the first thing I come back to if I feel like I have not been paying attention to my nutrition and daily calories. There is no arguing with the numbers in front of me in black and white.

I incorporate some form of movement into every day. Some days I do cardio, strength, and stretching exercise at the gym. Some days I’m exercising on a pole, hammock or hoop in the aerial studio where I teach and train. Some days I just do cartwheels or yoga challenges, or park at the far end of the lot. But every single day I think about moving my body. It is not a chore, it is a privilege.

What has been your biggest challenge along the way, and how have you overcome it?

There are two obstacles that I have always allowed to dictate my level of activity and ability to be healthy: my five children and my bad joints.

It is easy to let my children’s needs and busy schedules come before my own, and for many years I did just that. I was showing them that my needs come last, including my health and happiness. Now they see a mom who moves and enjoys it. I have decided, no matter how busy my day is, I FIT exercise into it. A critical part of raising my kids is showing them that I matter too, as they will when they become adults and parents.

Also, I do not have good joints, most notably my back and knees. I’ve had several knee and back surgeries since I was 12 years old. My last orthopedist, seeing my x-rays for the first time, looked at me warily and said, “You do realize that you have severely advanced osteoarthritis, right?” I assured him I knew that. He explained that there was nothing left to be done for my knee except to wait for things to deteriorate to the point of replacement. What causes me the most joint pain are poor diet, lack of movement, and carrying extra weight, so I am simply done with those things. I respect the limitations of my joints, and train carefully. But I continue to train, move, and dance. Because when I stop moving, I’m done. And I’m not done.

What is one new healthy food, habit, or activity you didn’t expect to like, but once you tried it, you were hooked?

In February of 2013, having just reached my goal weight, I went to a pole fitness class at Vertical Addiction in Stamford CT, thinking I'd spin around looking graceful. Instead, it was hard, as in beyond-my-abilities hard.

Most of my childhood I was a competitive gymnast, and most of my life I have been a dancer. What I saw in that class inspired me: women of every age, body shape and background, who looked strong and graceful. I felt completely clumsy and incapable, but the other women seemed genuinely certain that I could do it too. I went back to try again. Today, I am a certified pole fitness and FlyGym instructor and I teach 3 to 6 classes per week. I also compete in regional competitions and have received bronze, silver, and gold medals in my age group in levels 1 and 2. Pole and aerial arts are my trifecta of fitness: a challenging full-body workout of strength and cardio, beautiful and graceful and never the same, and amazing women of every age and ability coming together to support and cheer for each other.

weight loss success

What has been the greatest reward of your weight loss success?

It is so much fun to go shopping, wear fun clothes, and even wear swimsuits with confidence. It feels good every day to move my body and feel strong and healthy. But by far my biggest reward is connecting with other women and helping to show them that they can achieve their health goals too.

For years I told myself “I can’t” and I believed it. I saw other women experience success and I had a list of reasons why she could do it – no kids, under 40, had less to lose, full-time athlete or celebrity – and I could not. I am done with that mentality, and with excuses. Women draw inspiration from me because I don’t have any magic bullet or easy excuses. I decided to do the work, and so can other women. Hearing that I helped inspire someone else’s success, no matter how small, is by far my favorite part of this journey.

What’s next? Any upcoming plans that were influenced by your weight loss?

My big plans are to keep going! I will continue competing, sharing, and teaching pole fitness and dance, and aerial arts. I look forward to summer and spending time in the water and sun with my family and friends. I hope to get busy on my blog and making more entries that will share my trials and successes. I want to get people talking about connecting their health and happiness and achieving their goals. I have one son leaving for college and 4 kids still at home, so the biggest part of my life is raising them and helping them create happy, healthy lives that include finding exercise that they love.

What is your best advice for others trying to lose weight?

I say start NOW. Do at least one thing today that you will be proud of tonight. How often do we fall asleep recounting our failures and bad choices? I know there is a long list of good, even amazing, things you do every day and never think about. Surely there are also habits and behaviors that make you feel badly, but you never really think about them, you just engage in them. So go through the day seeking opportunities to make a choice you will be proud of!

It doesn't matter if these opportunities are small. Because if you are anything like me, it is the accumulation of these small, mindless behaviors that are making you feel defeated. If instead you go to bed reminding yourself how you purposefully made one better choice for yourself, then you are going to bed with a positive thought. That will change everything, because the things you tell yourself are the most powerful things you hear. Feeling badly about yourself is hard work. Making positive changes on a daily basis is hard work. Choose your hard work.

Crunchy Cucumber Salad

Crunchy Cucumber Salad Recipe

This summer salad is full of vitamin-rich vegetables. It is dressed in a slightly spiced vinaigrette that goes well with the refreshing cucumber. A few nuts sprinkled on top supply healthy plant protein.

Yield: 2 servings

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

3 small cucumbers, such as Persian cucumbers

1/8 tsp fine ground sea salt

2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks

¼ tsp dark sesame oil

¼ tsp unseasoned rice vinegar

¼ tsp sriracha hot sauce

¼ cup raw cashews

Directions

Use a vegetable peeler to cut the cucumbers into thin ribbons. Place the cucumber ribbons in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and let sit for 10 minutes.

Squeeze the cucumbers to extract excess water and drain. Add the carrots to the bowl.

Add the sesame oil, rice vinegar and sriracha. Stir the salad well. Sprinkle with cashews and serve.

Nutrition information for 1 serving: Calories 130; Total Fat 8.3 g; Saturated Fat 1.1 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 195 mg; Carbohydrate 12.6 g; Fiber 3.7 g; Sugar 5.2 g; Protein 3.5 g

How to Keep Healthy Foods Fresh

food storage berries

Berries

Berries are one of the most fragile fruits, and moisture can cause them to spoil quickly. It is best to store them unwashed and rinse them under cold running water just before eating. Discard any damaged or spoiled berries before storing. Give your berries more space by removing them from the store container and placing them in a single layer in a loosely covered shallow container. Most types of berries will last 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Whole Grains

Whole grains still contain the germ, which is the portion of the grain with healthy oils. The presence of the germ makes the grains sensitive to heat, light, and moisture. According to the Whole Grains Council, grains like wheat berries and rice last longer than grains that have been ground into flours. Both whole grains and flours should be stored in an airtight container away from light and heat. Most grains will last 6 months in the pantry or 1 year in the freezer. Flours and meals will keep for 1 to 3 months in the pantry and 2 to 6 months when stored in the freezer.

Oils

Unrefined oils, like extra virgin olive oil and nut oils, are sensitive to air, light, and heat. When exposed, the fatty acids can turn rancid causing an unpleasant flavor. Store olive oil in a dark, cool place. Unopened bottles will last for 1 year. Once you open it, most varieties will last for 6 months. Nut and seed oils are even more sensitive than olive oil. As a result, store oils like sesame and walnut in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Onions

Like most root vegetables, onions should be stored in a well-ventilated, cool, dry place. Onions need air movement to stay fresh, so take them out of plastic bags before storing. The sweeter an onion, the higher its water content. This influences how easily it bruises and how long it will stay fresh. As a result, sweet onions like Walla Walla and Vidalia may have a shorter shelf life than other varieties. The National Onion Association suggests wrapping these onions in a paper towel or newspaper and storing them in the refrigerator to extend the shelf life. Once peeled, all onions should be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Chopped or sliced onions will last 7 to 10 days.

Sweet Potatoes

Refrigeration will cause sweet potatoes to harden in the center and develop a bad taste. Place sweet potatoes in a well-ventilated container set in a cool, dry place. A basement or root cellar are ideal, but simply keeping the potatoes away from heat will help extend their freshness. According to the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, when properly stored, sweet potatoes will stay fresh for up to 2 weeks.

Tomatoes

Ripe tomatoes are best eaten within 2 to 3 days after purchase. Store your tomatoes at the coolest room temperature possible with the stem-side facing up, away from direct sunlight. Generally, storing tomatoes in the refrigerator can cause them to lose flavor. But according to the Division of Agriculture at the University of California Davis, if you have ripe tomatoes that you aren’t ready to eat, you can delay over ripening by placing them in the refrigerator for fewer than 3 days. Allow refrigerated tomatoes to sit at room temperature for 1 hour before eating to help improve the flavor.

Nutrition and Arthritis

Nutrition and Arthritis

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is used to describe joint pain or joint disease. According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are over 100 different types of arthritis affecting 1 in 5 people over the age of 18, and 1 in 250 babies and children. Symptoms of arthritis include joint swelling, pain and stiffness that lead to a reduced range of motion. Some forms of arthritis cause pain that comes and goes, while others result in pain that worsens over time. Arthritis can make it difficult to perform daily activities and regular exercise.

How can food influence arthritis?

Arthritis is linked to inflammation, and research has shown that some foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants may combat inflammation and reduce some symptoms of arthritis. Similarly, other foods have been found to cause inflammation and should be limited for those with arthritis. These include foods with high amounts of saturated fat, trans fats, and refined carbohydrates. Additionally, some medications for arthritis cause the body to retain more sodium, so paying special attention to sodium intake is important as a way to prevent an unhealthy rise in blood pressure.

What foods have been found to reduce the symptoms of arthritis?

The painful symptoms of arthritis can be reduced by basing your diet on anti-inflammatory foods. Antioxidants are key players making fruits and vegetables an important part of an anti-inflammatory diet. While most fruits and vegetables have unique nutrients that can be beneficial, focus on those with vitamin C, beta-carotene, and anthocyanins. Bell peppers, strawberries, citrus, broccoli, and kale provide vitamin C. Sweet potatoes, mustard greens, turnip greens, apricots, and carrots are rich in beta-carotene. Anthocyanins are found in blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, and red onions.

Reduce saturated and trans fats, and focus on incorporating more foods with hearty-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, sardines, anchovies, trout, chia seeds, and walnuts are all sources for omega-3s.

Research also shows that spices have anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, or cloves can be stirred into yogurt, blended into smoothies, and sprinkled over oatmeal or stir-fried vegetables.

Creamy Pasta with Summer Squash

Creamy Pasta with Summer Squash Recipe

Pastas with creamy sauces are satisfying, but they are also loaded with calories and saturated fat. By using part-skim ricotta cheese and seasonal vegetables, you can create a healthier meal that mimics traditional favorites.

Yield: 4 servings

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

1/3 cup diced onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ cups sliced zucchini

3 cups cooked whole wheat pasta (like linguine)

¾ cup part skim ricotta cheese

1 tsp lemon zest

¼ tsp ground black pepper

2 tsp chopped fresh basil

Directions

Heat the oil over medium-high in a large, deep skillet. Add the onion and garlic, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring often, for 7 to 10 more minutes, until the zucchini is slightly tender.

Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cooked pasta. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the ricotta, lemon zest, and black pepper. Sprinkle with the fresh basil and serve.

Nutrition information for 1 serving: Calories 245; Total Fat 8.5 g; Saturated Fat 3.5 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 22 mg; Sodium 278 mg; Carbohydrate 35.5 g; Fiber 5.9 g; Sugar 4.1 g; Protein 10.7 g

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